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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fight Over John Quincy Adams Letters

DALLAS (CN) - A Dallas-based auction house asked a federal judge to determine which of two collectors owns two letters signed by John Quincy Adams, which the auctioneer is holding in its vault. One letter, from 1788, is from Adams to John Jay, the year before Jay became the first chief justice of the United States.

Heritage Auction Galleries, which describes itself as "the largest collectibles auctioneer and third largest auction house in the world," sued Bradley Mugar and Dr. David Light, asking a judge to rule on their rival claims.

Heritage says it paid Mugar a $28,000 advance for the letters, repayable after sale, but pulled the letters the day before the auction when Light claimed they had been stolen from him.

According to the complaint: "In July 2011, Bradley B. Mugar contracted with Heritage to sell (among other things) two letters signed by John Quincy Adams on consignment. Heritage subsequently made two cash advances totaling $28,000 to Mugar, which were to be repaid from the auction sale proceeds. Before auction, Heritage learned of rival claims to the manuscripts and thus withdrew the two lots from the auction."

Mugar, of Orange County, Calif., claimed to be sole owner of the manuscripts, Heritage says, so it agreed to auction them off at the Beverly Hills Signature Historical Manuscripts Auction, on Sept. 8 this year.

But on Sept. 7, an attorney for Dr. David Light, of Palm Beach County, Fla., "forwarded Heritage a letter. In the letter, Light claims 'that certain historical documents that were stolen from him now appear available for auction on [Heritage's] website.' Specifically, Light claims to be the rightful owner of the John Quincy Adams Manuscripts," the complaint states. (Brackets in complaint.)

Heritage filed the complaint in interpleader seeking to determine the owner of the letters.

Heritage also claims Mugar is in default of his payment obligations and is liable for breach of warranty and title if he does not own the letters.

The letter to Jay is dated July 18, 1788. The second letter, of April 6, 1783, is addressed to "My young friend," according to the Sept. 7 letter from Light's attorney (which misdates the second letter as 1883.)

Heritage is represented by Samuel Joyner.

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